Dickensian in boyhood, Gatsby-esque later on, self-congratulatory throughout.

MY FAIRY-TALE LIFE

A new translation of the midcareer memoir by the writer who wrote “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling” and myriads of other fictional and dramatic writings lesser-known outside his native Denmark.

First published in 1855, Andersen’s, unsurprisingly, is more an old-fashioned autobiography than a contemporary memoir. Concerned principally with the exteriors of his life—his financial struggles in boyhood and young manhood, his slow acceptance in the world of Danish letters, his later international celebrity, his extensive travels—the volume says virtually nothing explicit about his love life (though his passion for singer Jenny Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale,” is patent; she didn’t reciprocate, referring to him as her “brother”), his professional work habits or nearly anything emotional. A big exception: his relationship with critics, professional ones and otherwise. Repeatedly, Andersen agonizes about unkind reviews of and negative comments about his work (he quotes at length from some of them)—especially in Denmark, where acceptance came much more slowly than it did in Germany, England and elsewhere. Compensating for this are endless pages of paeans from those who did appreciate his work—from commoners to kings. He quotes lines from flattering letters, reproduces poems others wrote in his honor, and never tires of discussing the high-society parties he attended (many to honor him, of course) and the celebrities who cherished him. Among those were Heinrich Heine, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Franz Liszt, the brothers Grimm and Honoré de Balzac. (His descriptions of Dickens border on the erotic.) Andersen also continually credits God for the good things in his life. The early parts of his account—about penury and struggle and determination and autodidacticism—are far more interesting than the rest, and there is also a dazzling description of his ascent of Vesuvius as it belched flame.

Dickensian in boyhood, Gatsby-esque later on, self-congratulatory throughout.

Pub Date: April 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-907650-57-4

Page Count: 510

Publisher: Dedalus Limited

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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